Theories of reincarnation

Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism all emerged from the same roots, bringing into the world a hierarchical concept of reincarnation that has been absorbed somewhat into New Age thinking. We know the ancient Celts believed something along the lines of reincarnation but we don’t have much detail. It’s easy, and therefore tempting, to import the ideas of other cultures to fill in the gaps.

While I like the idea of reincarnation (matter, after all, gets reused, why not spirit?) I don’t like all of the baggage. Far too many New Age folk are willing to accept superficial wealth and material success as proof of good karma and blame misfortune on bad karma, even going as far as to suggest disability is a consequence of bad karma. That’s hideous, illogical and a way of abdicating responsibility. Why would material wealth be a reflection of your spiritual condition anyway? If we think about the majority of spiritual teachings, there are plenty of reasons to argue that poverty is a spiritual advantage (easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, and all that). Material wealth, in every seriously spiritual context, is a trap and a distraction from real life. The only people who seem to advocate it as a spiritual good, also seem more interested in material wealth than anything else and I’m prepared to bet that’s not a coincidence.

Another problem I have with this system of reincarnation is that it suggests something or someone is keeping score for all of us, to decide who to punish and who to reward, and that starts to sound like all the things I dislike in monotheism. I’ve been reading about Jainism this week, and they understand karma as a substance that attaches itself to your soul and by its presence, dictates what you are capable of doing. Good karma gives you auspicious opportunities to grow and develop, bad karma can ultimately reduce you to being a hell-bound type creature, but what you suffer is precisely the hell you have created. There’s something very pleasing about that idea, I think.

Then there’s this whole business of what constitutes a ‘better’ incarnation. The widespread understanding is that being a human represents a pinnacle in earthly achievement and from human state you can ascend to something even better. I can’t help but feel this opinion has everything to do with us, as a species, thinking rather too well of ourselves. As a Druid, it doesn’t chime with me at all. Everything has spirit. Why should our manifestation be considered ‘superior’?

Consider the number of other creatures who clearly devote a lot of time to quiet contemplation. By the looks of it, my cat meditates far more than I do. Dolphins strike a lot of people as being very spiritual creatures. How about elephants? Wouldn’t it be progress to reincarnate as an elephant? Although this rather assumes the existence of progress or that one form is better than another, and really we have no idea.
With the Druid hat pulled down firmly over my ears last night, I came to a conclusion. A longer lived entity has more lifetime over which to develop spiritually. All Eastern reincarnation traditions seem to have aspects of renouncing the world, becoming still, quiet, sometimes inactive as the last step before transcending. This does not sound like people to me. This sounds like trees. Then I went on to think about the spirits of mountains, and other very old things that have had time to become, and are no doubt still becoming. You’d need a lot of human incarnations to keep up with that.

I’m not that convinced by the idea of reincarnating into some higher, unearthly state of being any time soon. I’m not so troubled by the woes and wonders of this world that I feel a need to transcend them. I’m interested in learning how to do as good a job as I can at being alive. That may mean I am simply a very long way from being able to transcend, but that doesn’t trouble me much either. Give me a few thousand more runs round the wheel and maybe I will know differently. In the meantime, I rather like the idea of coming back as a tree.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

11 responses to “Theories of reincarnation

  • Wendy Stokes

    Good points and I hope this subject will run and run! This philosophy is a consequence of a very unfair caste (hereditary aristocratic) system which is very primitive and thousands of years old. Many New Age practitioners have no parameters to measure whether a philosophy is true or not. They are not questioning whether this philosophy is fair to those in the developing world (or fair to those who are less fortunate than others in the first world). I spoke to someone recently whose reactive depression (due to a major bereavement of 2 members of her family who were killed by a drunken driver in a road accident) was blamed on something she had done in a previous life, yet she was far more caring than the person making this accusation. . .

  • naturalpantheist

    really interesting ideas there – i love the idea that reincarnating as a tree would constitute progress rather than as a human….such an attitude would promote a much more reverent attitude towards trees and the natural world. I don’t believe in reincarnation myself (except perhaps reincarnation of our atoms into different things) but when i die I would like a tree planted over my grave so my atoms become part of that tree – perhaps thats a naturalistic way of saying the same thing.

  • Alex Jones

    With respect to Druids and those folk who wish to associate with the ancient Celts, there is huge ignorance of animism and those ancient peoples.

    Of reincarnation the textual, oral and archaeological evidence is huge, but of course people are too lazy to study them. Celtic philosophy is animist, the ancient Druids were an evolved shaman, people would be better off studying indigenous peoples rather than those organised religions to get a better idea of what reincarnation meant to ancient Celtic peoples.

    Spirit is an energy field like a magnetic field, it exists in potentiality in that it traps energy by the manner of its charge. Energy fields can be entrophic or ordered. The material world of money and body is the reflection or shadow cast by the energy field when energy is released by the energy field, set in motion. All of this is standard philosophy if one were to take the time to study Celtic stories.

    Every choice you make impacts the energy field, it can drive it to an entropic state or a highly ordered state, which will impact you on the next cycle of life. No, there is no external agency keeping store and punishing, you do that to yourself, that is the karma.

    The evidence from children with past life memories indicates disability has a relationship to a past life. A traumatic event of a past life is noted to leave a mark either as a sickness or a imperfection. Note that energy fields throw out images of themselves as matter, what you see is a reflection of the energy field.

    Human beings are a higher state of being than all plants and animals. The purpose is to be guardian of all plants and animals in the community if one is to take the animist ideas of Australian Aborigines into account. From a subjective point of view I consider if one accepts planet Earth is a living organism, we humans are the seed being prepared to be sent out to colonise the stars, rather like dandelion seeds are unleashed on the wind. The Earth wants to live through the agents it sends out as much as you want to live on through the production of children, The doom of the Earth is as predictable as your own death, entropy takes all, but is cheated through the production of children.

  • Nimue Brown

    Alex if there is evidence for Celtic beleif that does not depend on observers lke the Romans, or trace influences in medieval fiction, please, please point me at it.

    • Alex Jones

      The Voyage of Bran:

      You will have to understand its symbolism though, Few modern Druids bother to study ancient texts like these as then it would be abundantly clear what the Celtic beliefs are.

      • Nimue Brown

        My problems here are several. Firstly that the Celts left no written record, secondly that all texts, this one included, are therefore written later and with some Christian influence as well as the infuence of wider story telling. Genre habits existed a thousand years ago, stories migrate. I do not accept that fiction is a reliable source of evidence for belief or practice. It may be indicative, but it is not foolproof evidence. I also do not believe that as a 21st century person I have a hope in hell of correctly interpreting the symbols. Like a lot of modern Druids, I spend a lot of time reading, studying, considering the various sources, trying to understand the material that we do have, which has lead me to understand what a multifaceted and complex issue this is, and I simply cannot accept that any medaeival texts are wholly representative and wholly to be trusted. It is also far too easy to read in what we want to see in that process of ‘understanding the symbolism’.

      • Nimue Brown

        And add to that I don’t read Irish medaeival so am dependent on translation and the skill of the translator to get not only the words, but the nuances of the words across, without which the scope for interpreting symbols is much reduced. Some modern Druids do learn ancient versions of Celtic languages or are able to tackle the medaieval texts, but that’s not my calling and in this lifetime it is simply not possible for me to put in the time it would take to learn the languages necessary to have a proper stab at this. I’d need Latin too, to look at the Roman texts properly.

  • Alex Jones

    In my personal view if a writer has first hand experience of Druidism then they are a good source, rather than the subjective ignorant opinions of writers who never met or is a Druid. Julius Caesar met Druids, he spoke to Druids, Roman propaganda merchant he may be, but his source is reliable because of his direct experience of Druids.

    The same goes to early Irish Christians. Druidism lived on in Ireland long after the massacre of Druids at Anglesey, Ireland was the last stronghold of Druidism but with progress people must adapt and change. The days of individuals dancing to spirits in bird costumes rapidly were closing in Ireland as they adopted greater civilisation, the Druids adopted Christianity, they became the backbone of Celtic Christianity. This form of Christianity is different to that of Roman Christianity, it was built by Druids. The difference between an oral and a written story is the medium, scratches on a paper instead of noises from the throat. The Druids knowledge moved through poem, metaphor and story, it is code which an individual with understanding can decipher. This code is in the stories, but also in the images and crafts. This is no fiction, it is philosophy involving real historical people, events and observations of nature. The Fomorians are real in that they are metaphors of the wild aspects of nature, they which will drown, burn and smash, the winds, waves and lightning.

    The paradigm shift from Druidism to Celtic Christianity was no easy transition, there was a fight between the old and new order, but the old order lost aka the snakes being cast from Ireland by St Patrick. Druids wrote the poems like the Voyage of Bran, they knew the philosophy and code, this is open to people like you to learn from our ancestors if you choose to study them.

    In Colchester we have a grave called the Lexden Tumulus where possibly the father of Cunobelin was buried. Every item that went into that tomb was destroyed, including a bronze age axe head that took some effort to “kill” it. By killing all these items their spirit was released to go with the spirit of the deceased. It is self evident that no items would be buried with an individual if there was no belief in the afterlife. Then you have the mass of Celtic and Roman reliable sources that constantly reconfirm that the journey into the afterlife is a cycle of rebirth i.e. reincarnation.

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